This article was originally published on Forbes here, and co-authored by Renata Hron Gomez and Laura Faulkner.
This is the fifth and final post in the Entrepreneur Xchange Series, a collection of articles that feature insights on five topics that impact entrepreneurs consider critical to success: customer acquisition, human capital, scaling, raising capital, and social impact. This post focuses on the importance of sales and acquiring customers.
When asked to give advice on customer acquisition, Worksquare founder Vanessa Bartram said “Sales is not sexy, but it is absolutely the most important skill set in any business.” While customer acquisition is critical to businesses at all stages, it is even more so for early-stage ventures. How can a business thrive and grow without sales? It can’t.
As social benefit businesses grow their customer bases, they have the added complexity of attending to a double-bottom line – where financial and social returns are both critical to success. As stated in an earlier Forbes post, the emphasis on social impact can often distract from the overall health of the business. Early-stage ventures must be clear about who their target customers are and the costs associated with securing them.
“The most common reason a business fails is lack of customers,” says Troy Henikoff, managing director of Tech Stars Chicago. “Yet many entrepreneurs spend a minority of their time figuring out the customer acquisition model. I am looking for a repeatable, scalable customer acquisition model.”
Forbes contributor George Deeb, managing partner of Red Rocket Ventures, underscores the power of telling potential customers a good story: “ The best sales teams are masters in storytelling. They artistically lay out a big picture problem in the industry that the client is dealing with, and slowly rope them in with their elegant solution to this problem.”
For example, Runa co-founder Tyler Gage’s strategy for building his company’s customer base is to highlight the unique elements of his product by selling the authentic story of the guayusa leaf and the growers behind it. Tyler’s approach to storytelling has not only helped him acquire customers – it has proven successful in securing funding from investors as well, including Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio.
So what is the best way for early-stage ventures to acquire initial customers? While there is no one-size fits-all approach, experienced entrepreneurs offer a number of strategies: emphasize the story; assess and adjust your method as needed; develop metrics to track progress; and use each interaction, including those that don’t pan out, as a learning opportunity. Combined, these elements are the building blocks of a strong customer acquisition strategy.
Moving Forward Education co-founders Elana Metz and Lacy Asbill recognize the value of building strong relationships as a means to acquire and retain customers. For them, the sales equation consists of “Aligning, partnering, listening and solving problems. "
As entrepreneurs look for guidance on developing their customer acquisition strategy, they should turn to their peers for tips and advice. The videos below share lessons that successful entrepreneurs have learned about sales:
Recognize that all employees are engaged in the sales process:
Sell your company’s story in an authentic manner:
Be adaptable and flexible with your sales and marketing strategy:
Investing in relationships leads to customer retention:
How did you land your first customer and what’s the best advice you’ve received on acquiring new customers?
I cover early stage impact entrepreneurs and investors.